A Biblical Perspective on National Debt
For 30 years I have watched with astonishment as our nation has sunk ever deeper into debt, even during times of peace and prosperity. A long, sorry procession of so-called “debt ceilings,” pay-as-you-go rules, and balanced budget proposals have all failed miserably, with each being promptly discarded the moment it threatens to actually reduce spending.
Today, having achieved the shameful distinction of world’s greatest debtor nation, we project massive trillion dollar federal deficits to continue indefinitely. Yet every effort to trim deficits, even by just a few percent, generates a national political crisis. Our president ignores the recommendations of his own debt commission. To Washington politicians and the media, “deficit reduction” now means annually accruing massive additional debt forever, just at slightly less than this year’s unprecedented rate of $1.6 trillion.
We wonder why this is allowed to continue. A socialist president? An irresponsible Congress? Greedy special interests? Too many on the federal dole? Yes to all of the above. But the truth is that political efforts to control debt fail because chronic deficits are not merely a political problem. They represent a spiritual problem.
A recent survey revealed that maintaining current levels of government benefits was far more important to Americans than controlling the growth of the debt problem. It seems we have reached a grave turning point in our national character, one which our Founders predicted would spell the end of liberty as we have known it: Americans crave security and entitlements more than they love liberty. We covet benefits for which we have not labored. We elect representatives who mock their Constitutional oaths by dishonoring the very principles they swear to uphold. Our lust for entitlements and our shameful envy of centralized European systems have produced a massive, uncontrollable bureaucracy that enslaves the people with debt, regulation, and intergenerational social dependency. And yet we seek ever more federal intervention—in health care, in foreign conflicts, in bank bailouts, in corporate bailouts, in state government bailouts.
The corrupting influence of federal plunder has rendered us a nation of competing interest groups: retirees, farmers, minorities, the rich, the poor, local governments, public employee unions, corporations, global interventionists, and multitudes of so-called “charities” and corrupt “health care” and “community” organizations. The federal government has degenerated into the agent of these plunder groups which take whatever they can by means of congress, the executive, or the courts. We have become a nation of hypocrites, extolling our compassion for the children as we lay up for them an heritage of perpetual debt, taxation and insolvency.
Our self-destructive behavior poses fundamental questions: Have government giveaways irreparably corrupted the character of the people? Has the Great Experiment failed? Can Americans, addicted to entitlements and laden with debt, still legitimately be considered a free and self-governing people?
The Cause of Debt
The Bible teaches that parents ought to lay up for the children, but the great American Ponzi scheme forces the children to lay up for the parents. Our spending dysfunction, in particular the chronic, systematic theft of the wealth of future generations, is more than selfish, irrational, and short-sighted. It is immoral, sinful and indicative of the spiritual decline of our nation.
Covetousness, pride, sloth, poor stewardship, theft, oath-breaking, and lawlessness all play a role, but perhaps the most fundamental cause is our violation of the First Commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
The underlying cause our national debt burden is that we have rejected God, His counsel, and His moral and social order, and embraced the idols of evolutionary humanism. The idols of humanism include statism, socialism, militarism, egalitarianism, universal interventionism, feminism, and a host of other –isms, each of which is characterized by man’s presumptuously assuming responsibility for controlling, regulating, subsidizing and redefining every aspect and sphere of human activity according to his own wisdom and values.
Replacing God is an expensive undertaking, to say the least. When man rejects the counsel of God, and sets himself up as judge, lawgiver and king, he replaces God’s divine blueprint for Christian self and civil government with humanistic systems which are not only inadequate to improving the human condition, but which inevitably become engines of debt generation, financial slavery, and moral and spiritual corruption.
The Bible makes it clear that indebtedness is one of the judgments with which God curses rebellious nations. Whether or not one agrees that Old Testament promises to the nation of Israel apply to the modern day activities of gentile nations, it is clear that debt is a form of judgment; and it seems America is clearly a nation under judgment.
“For Jehovah thy God will bless thee, as he promised thee: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over thee.” (Deut 15:6-7)
The corollary to this promise is the curse for disobedience described in Deut. 28.43-44: “The sojourner that is in the midst of thee shall mount up above thee higher and higher; and thou shalt come down lower and lower. He shall lend to thee, and thou shalt not lend to him: he shall be the head, and thou shalt be the tail.” (Deut 28:43-44)
Notably, national debt is being experienced concurrently among many Western post-Christian societies which may have outlived their usefulness to God’s Kingdom other than perhaps by serving as illustrations of the operation of his judgments. Interestingly, most of these nations are concurrently suffering not only from chronic debt, but from a complex of other providential judgments including declining birthrates, family breakdown, and reduced global, political, economic, and military influence. Perhaps even more ominous is the widespread and rapidly rising influence of Islam (which has taken the form of an invading foreign religious and political power) and its progressive displacement of secularized, post-Christian cultures.
The framers of the Constitution understood what would occur should the federal treasury ever be opened to individuals, interest groups, and the influence of human depravity. They provided us with constitutional tools to prevent an escalating cycle of debt and plunder and the ransacking of the federal treasury. These include strictly defined limitations on the federal powers to tax and spend, the 9th and 10th Amendments, the oath of office, etc. These tools can and must be used.
But constitutional law, like Biblical law, carries little weight where men do not fear God and despise the existence of any power higher than themselves. Autonomous man, in his rebellion, either ignores the law or makes it say what he wants it to say. The “living document” theory of constitutional and Biblical interpretation is the invention of evolutionary humanists bent on advancing their political and spiritual rebellion against God and every form of higher law.
Restoring fiscal integrity will require much more than trimming one hundred billion, or even several hundred billion from the annual deficit. It will require more than fiscal discipline, sacrifice, debt commissions, and balanced budget amendments. It will not be accomplished through increased conservative activism or by electing more conservatives to office. Debt and spending limits are meaningless to a rebellious nation with a deep-rooted addiction to entitlement programs, spending, and legal plunder.
Controlling our debt problem requires that Americans, beginning with believers, recognize the debt problem first as a sin issue, and second, as a judgment of God and nature upon a profligate, materialistic and rebellious society.
Americans will be faced with perpetual debt until we repent of the pride and self-delusion that says man can end poverty, achieve world peace, eliminate every risk, and prevent all human suffering through entitlement programs, subsidies, regulation, intervention and other Godless, humanistic efforts. Until the people grasp that the root of human suffering is not inadequate federal funding, but human pride and rebellion, we will continue down the same path that has brought us to where we are today.
Americans must rediscover liberty, not as a political philosophy obsessed with the preservation of individual rights and freedoms, which is itself idolatry, but liberty as the fruit of living in harmony with God’s moral and social order. We must cherish liberty above security, liberty above prosperity, liberty above convenience and centralized human systems. We must rediscover the concept of liberty as the fundamental condition of human existence and as the only condition worthy of the dignity of man, with his divinely bestowed role, the image bearer of the sovereign God of the Universe.
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